Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Leslie Basham: For Protestant believers worldwide, October 31 is about a lot more than just costumes and candy and jack o'lanterns. Today marks the 500th anniversary of the day a German monk posted some theological discussion points on the Facebook wall of his day—the church door.

Here’s Mary Kassian with an observation about that event.

Mary Kassian: To me, what’s really striking about the Reformation is that something so simple had such a profound effect. It really was just a piece of paper with some ideas nailed to a door. That shook the world. And it sometimes is just the simplest of things, and the simple speaking of truth that is the most profound and the most far reaching. And that is a good lesson for me because I don't need to come up with something new. I just need to speak truth, and I just need to speak truth as it is found in the Word of God, and that in and of itself has so much power.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Choosing Gratitude, for Tuesday, October 31, 2017.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Today is October 31, 2017. A lot of people are celebrating Halloween today and have no idea of the true significance of this day—that 500 years ago, October 31, 1517, something very significant took place that was an earthquake in the history of the Church! We’ve been talking about it with Dr. Erwin Lutzer for the past several days.

If you’ve missed that series, I hope you’ll go back and listen to it or read the transcripts. It’s been very educational, inspirational, and challenging to our thinking.

Dr. Lutzer, what took place on October 31, 1517, that matters so much 500 years later?

Dr. Erwin Lutzer: Well, that’s the day when Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the castle church door in Wittenberg, Germany. The theses were written in Latin intended only to be debated among the intelligentsia.

They are translated into German (Gutenberg’s printing press had been developed the preceding century), they’re spread throughout Germany. All the Germans are reading them, agreeing with them. Suddenly, Europe is convulsed, eventually, as a result of that.

Luther becomes involved in the process in various ways through debates, through standing for Scripture, for all kinds of events that take place—including a lot of martyrdom on one side or the other. That’s been the whole history of Christianity.

And so, today we celebrate that Reformation. We celebrate not because we agree with everything that Luther said, not because he was perfect—he was certainly a flawed individual. But he uncovered the gospel! I think it was the greatest recovery of the gospel since the time of the apostles.

He understood that salvation came about as a free gift of grace, given to those who believe. That delivered him from his struggles, and it’s been delivering people from struggles ever since. But, of course, it’s rooted in the Scriptures.

Nancy: And that leads us to what we’ve referred to in this series as the Five Solas of the Reformation—five summary statements that maybe capture the theological essence of this movement. Sola means “only” or “alone.”

For those who may not be familiar with that, could we just tick through those? Then, I want us to look at some lessons of the Reformation. The first sola you just referred to was Sola Scriptura.

Dr. Lutzer: Sola Scriptura was the basis upon which the Reformation happened. It was really based on the fact that the Bible alone, and not tradition . . . Luther had a great respect for the Bible. That resulted in the fact that he translated the New Testament—when he was in the Wartburg Castle—into a German that the people actually understood.

There were lots of translations where you had various dialects of German. And Luther, when he came to the Old Testament, he had help with that. He’d actually go to a butcher, because what he wanted to do was to understand the different parts of the animal—what those different parts were called—because he was translating Leviticus. He wanted to be accurate.

What he was doing was giving the Word of God to people—that even impacted my life. Let me just read a couple of statements regarding Luther and what he said about the Scripture.

A fiery shield is God’s Word, of more substance and purer than gold, which tried in the fire loses none of its substance, but resists and overcomes all the fury of the fiery heat. Even so, he who believes God’s Word overcomes all and remains secure everlastingly against all misfortunes, for this shield fears nothing—neither hell nor the devil.

When Luther translated the Bible, he did it with a great deal of reverence, because he believed—as we do—that he was translating God’s Word!

Nancy: Yes. And that German translation of the Scripture actually impacted your life. Lutzer—that’s German.

Dr. Lutzer: Lutzer—Luther—yes. My parents were Germans. They were born in the Ukraine, but they were German. They came over and they married, and I was raised in a very godly home.

We had devotions after breakfast every morning. I mean . . . if for some reason we missed three times a year, I’m sure it was not more than that. But we were read to from the German Bible. Mother and Father would take a passage of Scripture—often a psalm—and they’d read it, then we’d get on our knees and pray.

Well, one day as a boy I was looking at their German Bible (which I still have, now that they are in heaven), and I looked at the flyleaf. And what did it say on the flyleaf? “Luther Translation.” Now, of course, it had been updated, just like the King James has been, but the impact of Luther’s Bible is absolutely enormous!

It unified all the different dialects of Germany. It did for Germany what the King James did for us. Whole books have been written just on the impact of Luther’s translation of the Bible—not to mention all of the people who came to saving faith as a result.

Earlier in one of the programs, I quoted Luther. He said, “I did nothing. I was just here in Wittenberg with Amsdorf, and we let the Word do the work.” Well, he did an awful lot—Luther did. But you’re right, Luther. At the end of the day, the Word that did the work.

Nancy: And the Word—trusted and respected and believed in and stood upon . . . over all councils, authorities, popes, church tradition, history—was the ultimate authority.

Dr. Lutzer: Here’s a challenge to all the parents who are listening right now. You want to know what you can do for your children. Think of the words of Luther at the Diet of Worms. What we need in America today is tens of thousands—and millions—of Christians who say, “My conscience is held captive [I love that expression!] by the Word of God.”

We need consciences held captive by the Word of God and, as Luther said, “I cannot and I will not recant! Here I stand. I can do no other!”

Nancy: Yes. The courage of conviction rooted in the Scripture: Sola Scriptura! And then, the second one, Sola Fide.

Dr. Lutzer: Sola Fide is “faith alone.” The question is, “Can anything be added to faith?” And the answer is “no.” And the reason it has to be faith alone is because the righteousness of Christ and the gift of salvation has to be a gift. And therefore, it can only be received by faith.

All of our works are tainted with sin, so we cannot contribute to the righteousness of God. We cannot do anything to diminish it. All that we can do is receive it. Luther says it’s like the ground; when it rains, all that the ground can do is to receive the rain. It doesn’t cause it, it receives it. And that is by faith.

We think of the thief on the cross. I mean, he just looked at Jesus and thought to himself, You know, if he’s a king . . . I know they’re mocking him, but if he is a king, he must have a kingdom. He said to Jesus, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

And Jesus, speaking with great weakness but with great authority said, “Today you shall be with me in paradise.” Faith alone!

Nancy: Justification by faith alone in the righteousness of Christ—righteousness not our own. It’s an alien righteousness, right?

And then, a third, closely related to that: Grace Alone.

Dr. Lutzer: Yes, grace alone—God’s undeserved favor. God didn’t have to save us. God decided to save us. He stepped out of heaven through Jesus Christ to save us, but it was not something we deserved. We couldn’t say to God, “You owe this to me.” “Grace alone” means that we are saved by grace alone.

Now, in Luther’s day, the church said that we are saved by grace alone, but we have to make ourselves worthy to receive that grace. And that was Luther’s problem: How in the world do you make yourself worthy to receive it?

So faith alone said, “You can come, and you can be very unworthy.” We sometimes sing, don’t we, that the “vilest offender.” Maybe, Nancy, right now somebody’s listening, and they’re saying, “If you knew my sin. If you knew . . .”

I mean, we may be talking to criminals, people who have done terrible, terrible things. They’ve maybe violated others; they’ve maybe committed murder. Well, the good news is that the salvation that’s offered to us is offered to them.

And as we sing: “The vilest offender who truly believes, that moment from Jesus a pardon receives!” Is that good news or what!?

Nancy: Yes! Grace alone. Not any works that we could do—no amount of them could suffice.

Dr. Lutzer: That’s right.

Nancy: So, number four: Christ Alone.

Dr. Lutzer: Christ alone. Millions of people will be in church this coming Sunday, and they will be told that Christ is necessary for salvation, but what they will not be told is that Christ is enough for salvation. They will be told, “Christ is necessary, but what you have to do is you have to add to what Jesus did . . .”

“If you add to what Jesus did, hopefully by keeping your salvation current, by returning, by going through rituals, you kind of keep it up to date.” So they would say, “Christ is necessary, but it’s not Christ alone.” What the Reformers said was, “If it is by grace alone and faith alone, it has to be by Christ alone!”

Nancy: One Mediator between God and man.

Dr. Lutzer: That’s right.

Nancy: And then, number five, “To the glory of God alone.” Soli Deo Gloria.

Dr. Lutzer: That’s right, it all has to do with the glory of God. At the end of the day, nothing else matters except the glory of God. And that’s true in our individual lives; that is true in our experience.

Many of you who listen on the radio might know that usually when I wake up in the morning (I think I did it again this morning), before I roll out of bed I pray and I say, “Oh God, glorify yourself in my life today at my expense.” In other words, “Don’t worry about me in this. I want You to get some glory from me today.”

Because at the end of the day, do you realize how that simplifies your life? It doesn’t matter whether you get that promotion (though, of course you’ll be disappointed if you don’t) but at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that God gets glory.

The whole scheme of John Calvin, whom we talked about in a previous program, his great emphasis was, “Everything is to the glory of God”—all of salvation and everything. It benefits us, needless to say, but it is really God who is glorified through our salvation.

As a result of Christ’s death, we see God like we could never possibly have seen Him unless we needed to be redeemed. So, it’s all about and His glory.

Nancy: I’m thinking about growing up as a piano major and playing Johann Sebastian Bach. At the end of each of his compositions, he would put “S.D.G.”—Soli Deo Gloria. It’s all for God’s glory, every bit of our work—what seems spiritual, what seems secular—there’s no distinction between them. It’s all for the glory of God.

So it really changed the whole nature of work and good works, because anything done for the glory of God becomes an act of worship, whether you’re a layperson or a priest. Really, the Reformation did away with those artificial distinctions between the clergy and the laity by saying we are all priests to God through Jesus Christ.

Dr. Lutzer: Revolutionary!

Nancy: Which leads us to some lessons that you have drawn from the Reformation. There are lots that could be drawn, but in the limited time we have here as we celebrate this 500th anniversary (and this will be a little bit of repetition, we’ve touched on these things throughout these days) but to put it in a nutshell, I want us to look at some of those lessons—starting with the power of God’s Word. We’ve come back to this again and again, but I think it bears repeating.

Dr. Lutzer: Yes, it’s part of the Solas. We just covered the power of the Word, but keep in mind that it was that that brought about the Reformation.

Luther actually stood between the Old World and the New World. He stood at a very pivotal point in history. His impact was huge, but if you were to ask him—as we indicated—he would say, “The Word of God did it all!” Understanding that Word and getting it to the common person was his passion.

So we have stressed that is, indeed, one of the great lessons of the Reformation.

Nancy: And this is why it’s so encouraging to see Bible translation work going on around the world, the distribution of Scripture around the world, and even in our country in the West where we have a lot of access to the Scripture—doing everything we can to get the Bible into the hands and the hearts of God’s people, so it’s not just sitting on a shelf collecting dust.

This is what we try to do through Revive Our Hearts—not to be novel, not to look for some amazing strategy or creative way to do something new—to tell the old, old story of Jesus and His love, to get people into the Scripture.

It is so powerful! It liberates, it gives life, it gives light. There’s not enough we can say about the importance of God’s Word! A lot of that we draw from the Reformation that goes back to the Scripture, the reverence for God’s Word.

For hundreds of years—increasingly—the Scripture had been ignored, had been covered up. That’s why people didn’t understand the gospel. They didn’t know the Word. In our day so many people—even sitting in our churches—don’t get the gospel. That’s why we need to get them into the Word and get the Word into them. The power of God’s Word!

And then, the second one we’ve talked about is the priesthood of the believer.

Dr. Lutzer: You see, for us in our context, it’s hard for us to understand its significance. We kind of take it for granted that we can pray whenever we want, and we have the same authority as anyone else because we are believers.

But imagine yourself in medieval times. When you went to church, the physical distance between you (where you are seated) and the pulpit and the platform was really intended to highlight the fact that it is the priest who is going to God before you. He is transforming ordinary bread and ordinary wine into the literal body and the blood of Christ.

You’re allowed to worship those elements, by the way, because that is “God of very God.” Now, suddenly, for the first time—on Christmas Day 1521—Carlstadt (Luther was in the Wartburg Castle) he gives the cup to the laity!

You see, up until that time, they were not allowed. You might spill the blood of Christ on the floor. And so what he’s doing is giving the cup to everyone and he says, “You get both the cup and the bread because you are the priest, now, before God.”

It changed people’s mindset as to who they were. They were valuable to God as they were. Accessibility to God, the significance of work (that we’ve covered before) and all of that came about as a result of the Reformation.

Nancy: Everybody can worship God. Everybody can come to God through Jesus Christ. And again, where did they get this novel idea? Right here, in God’s Word. First Peter—we’re priests. What we do is sacred, and we have access to God the Father (Romans chapter 5) through grace, through Jesus Christ.

This was radical, and something that we don’t want to take for granted. A lot of that understanding in our world today was birthed out of the Reformation.

And then, we’ve touched on this—how work was revolutionized.

Dr. Lutzer: Yes, we’ve talked about its significance. Maybe we should go on to the fourth lesson there. It planted the seeds of the freedom of religion. Now, when Luther stood there (and we described it in detail) at the Diet of Worms and said, “My conscience is taken captive by the Word of God,” he is standing against a thousand years of tradition. He was breaking new ground.

He was saying that, “My conscience is sacred.” That’s why he was supposed to be put to death. As I mentioned earlier, he wasn’t put to death because the Turks were actually circling Vienna, and Charles needed the help of the Protestants in his fight against the Turks.

Freedom of religion does not come to Europe immediately. It goes through a process. As a matter of fact, this gets rather complicated, but I think I have enough time to simply highlight it. What happened was, the belief was: “We have so many Lutherans that we have to give them freedom of worship. But you Lutherans have to worship in accordance with your prince. If you have a Lutheran prince, you can worship as a Lutheran. If you’re living in a Catholic land, and you want to worship as a Lutheran, you have to move so that you’re under a Lutheran prince.”

Nancy: So, the church and the state are still very much linked together.

Dr. Lutzer: It’s very confusing. Yes, they’re linked together. What you have is this period of time. Then there was a change made that said, “No,” Charles V said, “Look, we are going to make a new rule. If you’re a Catholic, you can worship as a Catholic under a Lutheran prince. But if you’re a Lutheran and you’re under a Catholic and you want to worship as a Lutheran, you have to go to a Lutheran land.” How does that sound? Is that all clear?

And the Lutherans protested at the Diet of Speyier, and they said, “This is unfair!” They became known as “protestors.” And that’s why, today, we have “protestants.” Protestantism was a response to an unfair issue of freedom of religion under Charles V.

After that, Charles still wants to shut things down, wants to overcome the Lutheran faith, so he uses war to do it (I mentioned that in a preceding program). But he can’t pull it off. There are too many Lutherans; there are too many princes; there are too many cities that have gone Lutheran.

So, eventually, Lutheranism prevailed. But there was no freedom of religion for Catholics and for Anabaptists. That came later. Then you have thirty years of war. Much of it was religious; much of it was political. It was an awful time!

Finally, the Peace of Westphalia ends it in 1648, and everybody said, “Look, we’ve been fighting for thirty years. We didn’t accomplish anything. Let’s just end the war and say you can believe or not believe as you wish.”

Don’t ever take freedom of religion for granted! It is a hard-fought privilege that we can worship whomever we want whenever we want according to our conscience.

Nancy: And the seeds of that were planted in the Reformation.

Dr. Lutzer: Oh, absolutely! Luther stood there, and that was it.

Nancy: Here’s a fifth lesson that you’ve pointed out, and that’s the need for courage. You see a whole lot of that in the Reformation.

Dr. Lutzer: Yes, we just don’t grasp that, do we, Nancy? A Christian in the Middle East said, “You know, we here in the Middle East, we don’t know if we are going to live from day to day, because we’re constantly subject to the possibility of being martyred.”

American Christians are so worried that they’re going to offend their neighbors because they belong to Jesus. Let me give you one example—and I don’t want to be critical—but I was told the other day that there is a church that said, “We want to take off of the Internet the list of our elders. If people see that our elders are attending this church (which is opposed to same-sex marriage), they could lose their jobs.”

I mean, that’s where it’s coming to here in America. My contention is, don’t take those names off. Stand for something, and take the consequences!

Now, that’s easier said than done, but we desperately need heroes of courage. That’s one of the reasons why we took out all this time to talk about the Reformation, to get people . . . John Hus, dying at the stake, “You can cook this goose, but in a hundred years a swan will arise!” Luther and a whole host of others.

Nancy: Some of these who prepared their students and followers for persecution and for suffering. We need to be doing that today.

Dr. Lutzer: Absolutely! Wycliffe had a whole course in how to die for the faith; how you can maintain your faith in the midst of persecution. Hundreds of his followers died in persecution.

Nancy: And then, finally, the need for the clarification of the gospel. I love, Dr. Lutzer, how you come back over and over again in conversation, in these sessions, in your preaching, your teaching, and your writing to, “Let’s get back to the gospel!”

There was a lot of confusion, a lot of error, in that era about how a person is justified, how a person is saved. But there’s a lot of confusion today about how a person is justified. One of the lessons that you’ve pointed out from the Reformation is, we need continual clarification of, “How does a person get right with God?”

Dr. Lutzer: The biggest error that happens throughout all of history is you want to add works. You want to say, “Yes, we’re saved by grace, we’re saved by faith, BUT you have to be a good person!” Well, it’s much better to be a good person than a bad person—I get that.

But when it comes to the matter of salvation, there’s only one way and that is through Jesus Christ. The reason that there is only one way is because He’s the only Savior. Other religions have gurus and prophets, but what they do not have is somebody who’s actually qualified to take away your sin!

I was explaining this to a Muslim the other day in a cab in Chicago—the difference between Jesus and Mohammed. Only Jesus can actually take away sin, and we have to get that out there. That’s why He is the only way to the Father.

The only way is for you to accept what He has done and to receive it as yours, by faith—and to come with your doubts. You know, Nancy, one of my favorite songs is “Just as I Am, Without One Plea.”

I think, for example, of some of the people who are listening today and how we thank God for them. They may have doubts and questions. I love that stanza that says

Just as I am, though tossed about,
with many a conflict, many a doubt—
Fightings within and fears without—
Oh, Lamb of God, I come, I come!

And right now, there are people who can believe on Jesus. Come with your doubts, come with your questions, come with your sin. But come to somebody who’s qualified to save you and to deliver you and to clean you up and eventually take you all the way to heaven!

Nancy: Amen and amen! Thank you, Pastor Lutzer. This has been so rich. We’re so grateful for the works of God. In Scripture, God repeatedly told His people, “Don’t forget your history. Don’t forget what God has done in redeeming His people.”

When God’s people forget or when they forget to teach their children, then their children ultimately forget God. So this is a day when we’re not only looking back on 500 year ago events and happenings, but we’re also saying, “Oh God, help us to pass on to the next generation the wonders of Your works, Your redeeming love, Your redeeming acts, that that generation might know and put their trust in the Lord and tell their children.” This is how we pass the baton of faith on from one generation to the next.

Thank you, Dr. Lutzer, for encouraging us, challenging us, educating us. Would you just close this series on this Reformation Day in giving thanks to the Lord and committing to Him this series, as it’s gone out into people’s hearts.

Dr. Lutzer: And right now, there are people who can believe on Jesus! They can pray with us.

Father, we thank You so much that when Jesus died as the Son of God, He bore our sin, He purged the sin of all who would believe on Him. We ask that many who are listening to this program—no matter what their background, no matter what their religious affiliation is—that they might this moment look to a Savior who can actually save them.

We thank You today that we are saved by faith and not by works, because we know we fail all the time in our works, and we praise you that when we receive You, You birth in us a love for You.

We do love You. We only wish, Lord, that we loved You more! Thank You, in Jesus’ blessed name we pray, amen. 

Leslie: That’s Dr. Erwin Lutzer. He’s been talking with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth about the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. If you missed any programs in this intriguing series, you can hear all of them at ReviveOurHearts.com.

And to learn more from Dr. Lutzer, I hope you’ll get a copy of his book, Rescuing the Gospel: The Story and Significance of the Reformation. You can find the book many places, but when you get it from Revive Our Hearts, you’re helping this program continue. So would you visit ReviveOurHearts.com to support the ministry? Would you ask God how He’d have you give? When you donate any amount, you can ask for the book. You can also call and ask for Rescuing the Gospel. The number is 1–800–569–5959.

We hear the word “amen” so much, it can start to lose its meaning. But when Jesus uses the word to describe Himself, we’d better listen. Nancy will talk about that tomorrow. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts. 

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants you to experience personal revival. It’s an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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